I’ve watched a hell lot of regional films. Somehow, Bengali films never appeared on my list. I do wonder why? May be, if I were a mass communication student, I would have been introduced to Satyajit Ray or Ritwik Ghatak cinema earlier on. Never Mind!
I saw a post on a social media platform about a Bengali film “Nil Nirjane” that scrapes the surface on lesbian romance. I have seen over 50 gay films in my lifetime, but was surprised that an Indian film by this name even existed. India is starved for films on lesbian relationships. Fire and Sancharram is all Indian cinema has had to offer. Until Dedh Ishqiya hit screens in 2014 and provided a ray of sunshine. And please, do not tell me, Girlfriend was a gay film. It was nothing but titillation for the frustrated front rows.
So, I immediately decided to watch Nil Nirjane. For the record, Nil Nirjane is now the first Bengali film I ever saw. Yes! Shocking, it’s not Pather Panchali or Meghe Dhaka Tara.
Nil Nirjane (or Vacation Blues) is set in a resort on the outskirts of Kolkata. Six individuals – Aman and Jaya (a couple), Mou and her father and Reshmi and her mother are vacationing in the resort. They are later joined by Kolkata rock band – Cactus (playing themselves), here to shoot a music video. Aman and Jaya are madly in love but want to break up because they feel their relationship will not head anywhere. A gay romance blossoms between Mou and Reshmi, two 18 year old, exploring friendship and sexuality. Rock band, Cactus provides the musical relief in the film.
Director: Subrata Sen
Cast: Raima Sen, Mou Sultana, Ayan Mitra, June Malliah, Moonmoon Sen, Rajatabha Datta and Cactus Band
*Warning Contains Spoilers*
Aman and Jaya is a confused pair. They want to break up. So, they come to a resort to enjoy their last time of togetherness. However, they end up making a pact to commit suicide because they can’t live without each other. Duh! Then why break up?
On the other hand, relationship between Mou and Reshmi (played by Mou Sultana and Raima Sen) is rather novel. But bound by limited screen time, their relationship is hurried and the characters appear sketchy and under developed. For example, within two scenes of getting to know each other, Mou talks about two rivers with names of women (Kumari and Kansavati) meeting and mating. She interlinks, two women can make love and she feels like a river once in a while. SERIOUSLY???
Chemistry between the girls is okay. Nil Nirjane is the Bengali debut for both actresses and the rawness in their performance is visible. As for girl-on-girl action, director Subrata Sen keeps it to the minimum with mere pecking. Unjust, as he doesn’t hesitate to film a passionate lip lock between straight couple – Aman and Jaya.
It seems like Subrata Sen had a strategy similar to Ekta Kapoor’s – making a low budget film that sells sex. But, I’m okay with it because it’s tastefully done. Besides, he tries to bring to the fore issues like homosexuality, premarital sex and unwed single mother taboo. For a 2003 release, Nil Nirjane is bold and brave and breaks away from social norms. Take a bow, Mr. Director!
I particularly found the scene interesting where Mou is restless because Reshmi gate-crashed into a late night jam session of Cactus. Her possessiveness seems to stem from two reasons – a) She’s probably seen the world more than Reshmi, b) she’s more aware of herself and her feelings than Reshmi. One of the more impactful scenes in the film, but I wish it was acted with more conviction. I also like that the conclusion to Mou and Reshmi’s story is left open to interpretation. If you ask me, Mou and Reshmi are young and were simply exploring their sexuality. Their relationship may or may not have lasted long.
I must mention, Nil Nirjane is an important film as it was India’s first film to be shot on a digital platform. This, kind of, paved the way for a new technique of film making in the country. Wonder why Nil Nirjane was never spoken of or given enough credit publicly for the same.
Nil Nirjane may not be a perfect film but it’s worth a watch. Perhaps, because it is India’s first digital feature film. And, because it is among the few Indian films that explores teenage lesbian romance. The film is available online with English subtitles on a popular video sharing channel. Give it a shot!
Now, if you please excuse me? I must go watch Pather Panchali and Meghe Dhaka Tara before I am pelted stones at, for not having watched these textbook classics yet!